Comic-Con: A 'Community' love-fest
The "Community" panel yesterday afternoon went exactly the way you would hope a show's Comic-Con debut would: a large room, packed with fans so knowledgeable about and in love with the show that they cheered an episode title ("Modern Warfare," of course) and the stars and producers of a terrific but low-rated show getting to experience first-hand just how passionate their small fanbase is.
Alison Brie, Gillian Jacobs and Yvette Nicole Brown all paused before answering questions to talk about how overwhelmed they were by the crowd response. Jacobs apologized for her smeared makeup, since she began crying "tears of joy" upon entering the room, and Brown said, "We have never seen so much humanity in one place celebrating our show. Thank you, so much."
I kept running into the cast and producers throughout the afternoon and evening (including for some interviews that will be turning up on the site in the days and weeks ahead), and they were all still floating on that love. And the crowd in turn got to experience one of the most entertaining TV panels of the con, and I'll have details about it after the jump...
This was a huge panel, with everyone in the cast but Ken Jeong, plus creator Dan Harmon, writing producers Neil Goldman and Garret Donovan and directing producers Joe and Anthony Russo. Moderator Todd VanDerWerff - who did a great job, and kindly recapped the "Chuck" panel that Fienberg and I were on stage for(*) - called this "the first of hopefully many appearances of Community at Comic-Con," then let Harmon talk a bit about the season 1 DVD set (audience members were given a Greendale student ID card to get a $5 discount on it), which comes out on Sept. 21 (season 2 launches two nights later).
(*) Quick digression on "Chuck": thus far, everyone we talked to who was in that room, be they "Chuck" actors or reporters or just fans, said they had a great time in spite of the weird ending, so I've set aside my guilt about that. Still, there was a point midway through the "Community" panel where I began thinking, "Throw it to the audience, Todd! Throw it to the audience! Don't be like me!" Fortunately, Todd got plenty of audience Q&A in, so I was glad to have been a cautionary tale.
Harmon said he hoped fans would buy the DVD (which contains a small Kick-Puncher comic book, drawn by Jim Mahfood and "written by Troy Barnes") rather than BitTorrent the episodes so they'd have a physical copy of the show. "It's the last thing you have when you die on your death bed," he suggested, before acknowledging that family and friends might be there, too. We also got a sneak peek at one DVD special feature, and all I will say is that you will never look at Britta the same way again afterwards.
Todd asked the cast and Harmon if they could tell newcomers why they should watch the show in five words or less. Their answers:
Joel McHale: "Because there's nothing better on."
Alison Brie: "Witty banter, Betty White."
Donald Glover: "Troy, Abed, love tri... angle?" (Danny Pudi high-fived that.)
Gillian Jacobs: "Dan Harmon is really funny."
Chevy Chase: "I am really... gay."
Danny Pudi: "Amazing comedic ensemble, and tags."
Yvette Nicole Brown: "Because we love you lots."
Dan Harmon: "Episode 4: 'Apollo 13' homage."
Talk of the "Apollo 13" episode (which Harmon later promised would not take the characters into orbit, but might come close) inevitably led to discussion of "Modern Warfare," and Harmon's love of "Die Hard," and McHale and everyone else complimenting the work of director Justin Lin.
"The NBC directors were trying to burn down our sets, because it was costing so much money," said McHale, since the episode shot over 8 days instead of the show's usual five.
Glover and Pudi were asked about being in "TV's greatest bromance," and Glover said he realized he and Pudi were going to be great friends when Pudi offered to help him move not long after meeting. This led to some imagery about the two of them wearing short-shorts and visors in an alley in LA that may or may not have been true, and then the two of them reprising their performance of "Donde. Esta. La biblioteca" to a huge ovation.
There were a lot of acoustic issues in the room that often kept the panelists from being able to hear Todd or each other, which ultimately led Chevy Chase to trot out his failed microphone gag (from "Spies Like Us") on several occasions.
Brie (who got perhaps the loudest response of any castmember) was asked for her feelings about the Jeff/Annie sexual tension, and she said, "It was really interesting to read fanfiction online about Annie and Jeff having sex. So that put me to bed some nights... No, I'm kidding. But it was an exciting turn of events for Annie, and myself." (Joe Russo confirmed that the cast has, indeed, seen various Jeff/Annie fanfic sites.)
Jacobs talked about how similar Britta is to herself. "I have a kinship with Britta. I recognize her desire to be a good person, and sometimes her intentions go awry. She ends up causing more harm than good.
"I hope that I'm not humorless and a buzzkill," she added. "I've never been told that in my real life."
The other actors talked about how Glover does read, R-rated characters on set, and he performed one of them - a homeless man who claims aliens are coming as an excuse to perform oral sex on straight men - then said, "I am so sorry to the parents in the room."
Pudi raved about getting to play Abed: "I am the luckiest person on the planet to be doing this role. To have a voice like this kind of character, you just don't see that this often."
A fan asked about the possibility of a "Community" soundtrack, featuring both cool songs used on the show and things performed by the cast like "Oh, Christmas Troy" and "Pierce, You're a B." Harmon said their music supervisors have wanted to try that for a while, but speculated that at best they could put together an iTunes playlist.
The actors were asked how much improvisation was in each episode. Glover called the scripts "tightly-written," and said sometimes the improv was less about changing the dialogue then in delivering it, like a long bit of physical business Brie did when Annie said "the gravy train is leaving the station." McHale mentioned that Glover ad-libbed the line about his cousin's funeral at the end of the Bert and Ernie tag, and Glover pointed out that having Abed and Troy play Bert and Ernie was itself Brown's idea. The tag from the Halloween episode was also improvised, since the scripted idea had to be thrown out at the last minute for legal reasons, so Glover and Pudi were told to just talk and see what happened.
A fan asked again about Jeff and Annie, and whether the writers have a long-term plan or go episode-to-episode. Harmon said that while producers on some shows shut themselves off from audience feedback - "That's not a good or a bad thing," he added, "that's a choice" - he is acutely aware of how the audience is responding and often makes story decisions accordingly.
"This is a special kind of show, and it's supposed to make you feel good, and you have to know if that's happening," he said.
Harmon and Garret Donovan then elaborated that while fans have "nudged the show in certain directions," they're not slavish about following the whims of their audience.
"It's not just, 'Oh, everyone likes cookies, so let's put more cookies in the show,'" said Harmon, who compared the viewing experience to riding a roller coaster, where you want to be surprised by the loops and turns and not have control of them. Sometimes, the writers even purposely antagonize the audience to keep viewers on their toes.
"It's about paying attention, especially with the relationships," he said. "That is so fed back into by the audience, whereas we can come up with good stories and characters and jokes. That's our job. And then we go onto the Internet and go, 'Look at these knuckleheads. They really want Troy to have sex with a fire hydrant.'"
The panel closed on an audience member asking Glover and Pudi to reprise their performance of "Somewhere Out There." The two struggled to remember all the words (at one point they were singing two different verses at once), but found their harmony and the crowd loved it.